FHSU grant writing program a successful proposal

11/17/17
By Diane Gasper-O’Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. – Seeing immediate results from a project you’ve put your heart and soul into is rewarding. When the reverberating effect could potentially positively impact thousands of people, it’s even better.

So it’s easy to understand why Brianna Witchey was a little giddy when she learned that a grant she had written for the City of Ellis Fire Department was being funded in full. She had first become a firefighter in Gage, Okla., when she was 18 years old because she likes helping people. And this grant could help a lot of people.

Under the direction of an Ellis Fire Department officer, Witchey, now a 23-year-old Fort Hays State University senior and an Ellis firefighter, wrote a successful grant proposal for $35,000 from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation.

Using the skills she learned in the grant writing program at FHSU, Witchey requested funds for new self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) equipment for the department. In layman’s terms, those are airpacks with two bottles each. The SCBAs must be updated every several years.

“Secretly, I was hoping for all of it, but realistically I was anticipating maybe $20,000,” said Witchey, a sociology major. “But I actually would have been happy with a dollar.”

It was the first grant proposal Witchey had ever written, but she said she felt confident about it because of the skills she learned in the grant writing program under the direction of Dr. Keith Campbell.

“Dr. Campbell teaches you how to write the most sophisticated grant proposals,” Witchey said. “He refers to it as a tool bag. For one job you might only need a hammer, and for another you might only need a screwdriver. You need to be prepared for anything.”

Campbell, professor of sociology, is in his 43rd year of teaching at Fort Hays State. After writing grant proposals for FHSU projects years ago, he talked to the sociology department about adding a grant writing program to the department’s curriculum.

“Long ago, we faculty saw a lot of value in the skill of grant writing for students,” said Dr. Brett Zollinger, chair of the Department of Sociology. “So we built that into our core curriculum.”

Campbell created the courses and has taught them ever since.

“Learning to write grant proposals is helpful to students in a lot of different ways,” Campbell said. “Oftentimes, it helps them obtain their first job, or it can help them receive promotions in their current job.”

In addition to the grant writing class required of all sociology majors, there also are six additional credit hours of grant proposal development offered by sociology that form a nine credit-hour certificate. Three of those nine credit hours are in the form of an internship.

About 10 years ago, the department decided to add a second segment, one that involved an eight-week, online grant writing training.

“That one is designed for busy working people,” Campbell said. “We realized that there are a lot of people with full time jobs and busy lives, but who want to write grant proposals.”

More than 2,000 people have taken the eight-week course, resulting in huge success for some. Campbell talked about a student who successfully wrote a grant for $1.8 million for a learning center project in Missouri.

Closer to home, Carol Sloper, from St. Francis in the northwest corner of Kansas, has written numerous grants, calling on her expertise gained from the FHSU classes.

A native of Cheyenne County, Sloper worked in information technology for 30 years in Denver before returning home in 2012 to take care of her ill father.

She said she stumbled across Campbell’s training online, enrolled in it and was impressed with the learning curve from the get-go.

“The content was easy to understand, a mode that I could digest and immediately put to work,” she said. “He really gets to the heart of what’s important.”

“It’s the most useful class,” she added, “that I’ve ever taken to help my career.”

Projects for which Sloper has successfully written grant proposals include an ambulance in Sheridan County, a trail around a public pond and a swimming park in St. Francis, new sidewalks in Bird City and a public transportation program and tornado shelters program for Cheyenne County.

“I’m helping make it a place I want to retire in because they are having the services we need,” Sloper said.

Campbell said he enjoys hearing all student success stories and was particularly pleased with Witchey’s good news.

“With the internship, students are asked to find a nonprofit in their community that is doing some kind of work the student respects,” Campbell said. “This involves a lot more detail on how to design a program to help a category of people in need and how to evaluate that program after it has been introduced. The evaluation is determining how the program has attained its objectives.”

Zollinger also was pleased with Witchey's accomplishment, especially considering she is still an undergraduate.

FHSU's program is unique, he explained, saying “it’s unusual that a university would teach this program at an undergrad level. ” 

More information about FHSU’s grant writing program can be found at fhsu.edu/sociology.

Witchey currently is completing her internship through the Ellis Fire Dept., and she is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new airpacks for her department.

“It’s phenomenal to apply something that you learned,” Witchey said, “and have the result come back and see that you did it.”

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